Northeastern is one of 85 colleges and universities to be investigated by the United States Department of Education (DoE) for Title IX violations in the handling of sexual assault cases on campus. Other schools under investigation include Boston area Harvard College, Boston University and Emerson College, as well as other institutions such as the University of Virginia, all which have been at the forefront of the national conversation of sexual assault.
“I’m disappointed but not surprised,” Helen Sharma, a third-year international affairs and anthropology combined major and president of the Feminist Student Organization (FSO), said. “I think honestly, most schools are under investigation because [of] how the Department of Education and the Office of Civil Rights are operating right now.”
Title IX is a federal civil rights law that “prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded education programs and activities,” according to the DoE Office for Civil Rights. In combination with the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Crime Statistics Act of 1990, a federal law that requires institutions to provide up-to-date crime statistics, the two bodies hold schools accountable for accurately reporting all sexual and nonsexual violence on and off campus.
“We are making this list available in an effort to bring more transparency to our enforcement work and to foster better public awareness of civil rights,” Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon said in a press release on May 1, after a list of 55 investigations of higher education institutions was announced. “We hope this increased transparency will spur community dialogue about this important issue.”
Investigation proceedings vary depending on the allegations presented as well as the age of those involved, the size of the administrative structure of the school, state and local laws and past experiences.
Third-year criminal justice major Rowan Cornell is surprised by the investigation, but notes the environment and work the university has put into addressing gender discrimination and sexual assault.
“From what I’ve seen, Northeastern is a great example of the importance of female leadership and equality,” Cornell said. “If the Title IX investigation is about sexual harassment, then I will be not only surprised but very disappointed. I’ve personally met the NEU Campus Police Detectives who deal with student-related sexual assault cases. They seemed extremely competent and far superior to other campus police detectives I’ve encountered at other universities. I’ve also heard from Boston Police that NEU’s Campus Police are very engaged. We always receive emails of crime alerts related to sexual assault, I can’t imagine a student-related rape or sexual assault going un-investigated.”
After an investigation, policy advised can be made towards student-to-student or survivor-to-offender level, but also on a broader university level. According to the Office of Civil Rights, suggestions that can be applied to the broader student population include retraining or training school employees on Title IX responsibilities, distributing materials on sexual violence to all students and conducting bystander intervention and prevention programs.
At Northeastern, Violence Support Intervention and Outreach Network (ViSION) provides some of these solutions, including education and training on sexual assault prevention, access to confidential medical and counseling services, access to legal services and an active bystander intervention program.
If an institution that receives federal fundings found to have violated Title IX and does not come into compliance of requirements voluntarily, federal funding may be revoked or the case can be referred to the Department of Justice for further litigation.
Northeastern administration declined to comment on the matter.
“I think the fact Northeastern is being investigated is a good thing though,” Sharma said. “It’s really forcing the administration to open their eyes to how as a campus and a culture we look at women’s rights and sexual assault, which are very intertwined.”
This piece was originally published by the Huntington News.
In his state of the university address last month, NU President Joseph E. Aoun announced the creation of a social impact council, which is set to begin meeting in the beginning of the upcoming at semester. The council was born from the original suggestion to create an ad hoc committee that would report to the university board of trustees and administrators to address social issues related to the university’s activities and the Northeastern community. The council will host both student, faculty and staff members, and will address issues ranging from divestment of university endowment funds from the fossil fuel industry and sustainability to Title IX and socially responsible investments.
SGA President Noah Carville and Vice President for Student Services John Finn were two of the key student players in the formation of the council along with executive director of the Husky Environmental Action Team (HEAT) and a student organizer of DivestNU, Austin Williams.
“We looked into how other schools have taken to the movement [of social impact bodies] and how they’ve varied in their processes and how they go about it,” Finn, a third-year finance and accounting major, said.
Carville stated that to determine Northeastern’s setup for the council, they looked at results of similar councils at other institutions. They found that schools with broader social impact councils in turn had broader university discussions.
After SGA compiled a formal report, Carville and Finn entered talks with senior university members from July through September, resulting in the proposal of the council.
As proposed by SGA, the council should have two undergraduate and one graduate student representative, four faculty representatives, three administration representatives appointed by the president and two co-chairs from the chosen members. Members will serve one-to two-year terms.
“If you look at a lot of these councils at other universities, they look at investments specifically,” Carville, a senior economics major, said. “We want this to be a social impact council. [We need to look at] 1: what are initiatives that are environmentally friendly, sustainable, socially responsible and support fairness and equality around the world and 2: what are the negative policies and initiatives in and around the university community that work against those things.”
Williams, a third-year environmental studies and political science combined major, first approached Carville and SGA over the creation of the originally proposed ad hoc committee in order to further push student referendums over fossil fuel divestment. Since the ad hoc’s evolution, Williams has also been assessing how other student groups feel about the social impact council so that it can remain empowering and transparent for all groups.
As a member of DivestNU and HEAT, Williams’ top priority to be addressed is fossil fuel divestment, but he also hopes the council will look at the university’s role in combating climate change, labor disputes and the school’s overall relationship with the City of Boston and surrounding neighborhoods.
“I believe that the social impact council will give us a way to address the board of trustees directly on [these] issues,” Williams said. “I think it has strong potential to [be successful], but I also think that if the social impact council isn’t structured correctly to promote accessibility and transparency, it could not achieve its full potential.”
Williams hopes that in order to increase transparency there should be ad hoc representation on the council on a case-by-case basis from student groups to lend expertise in the drafting of a recommendation. He also suggests making decisions of the council accessible to students online and fast-tracking recommendations to the university senior leadership team, mandating a response from them.
“There’s distrust out there among a lot of activist communities in Northeastern, and this social impact council would be a way to address their issues in a timely manner,” Williams said.
Carville has also come across student hesitation regarding the council.
“I’ve heard from certain students that this was a stall tactic or a bureaucratic obstacle to prevent the university from taking action,” Carville said. “However, I’d counter that by saying that we’re a big university and whatever has to happen will take a long time. And the fact that we’ve been talking about [the council since] july and [it] should be up and running in January demonstrates a commitment I haven’t seen yet in my four years at Northeastern.”
Sophomore mathematics and biology major Colette Biro sees the council as a positive means of communication for students and the administration.
“I think that it is good to have that intermediary between students and the university,” Biro said. “It’ll let the university know what the students want, which is important.”
With the council set to begin meeting in January, student members who apply for the position will be vetted and elected by student government.
“I hope [this council] can improve the relationship between the administration and the student body and other members of the university community that feel like their voices are left out of university decisions,” Williams said.
This piece was originally published by the Huntington News.
Chronicling my journalistic endeavors.
All ocean conservation/biodiversity posts are my own original thoughts. All other posts are my work for other publications.